Groupama 3 out of Atlantic in less than 2 weeks

Groupama 3 - Jules Verne Trophy attempt 2008
The passage of the Cape Agulhas is the second intermediary point of the Jules Verne Trophy: Groupama 3 has accumulated a lead here of 23 hours and 30 minutes over Orange II in 2005, by reaching the longitude 20° East after 13 days 8 hours and 47 minutes! A new reference time was achieved this Wednesday at 1637 UTC

By leaving the Atlantic Ocean, Groupama 3 has already covered 7,200 miles, or over quarter of the Jules Verne Trophy course, the complete loop amounting to 24,530 miles according to the optimal route possible. In conserving a lead of 23 hours and 30 minutes over Orange II's reference time at the passage of Cape Agulhas, the outer edge of South Africa, Franck Cammas and his men are demonstrating that they are well on the pace of a Jules Verne Trophy attempt of below fifty days.

Despite the weather conditions being trickier to negotiate than three years ago, Groupama 3 hasn't lost any time on the descent of the South Atlantic and is therefore keeping its hopes alive of beating the round the world speed record. The crew has nevertheless had to contend with numerous gybes and has racked up more miles than its predecessor, yet still clawing back a lead of 2 hours and 57 minutes on this section of the course between the equator and South Africa.

'If all goes to plan, we should improve on Orange II's time on entering the Indian Ocean, but it'll be a close run thing! We've covered a lot more ground than Bruno Peyron in the Southern Atlantic, and heading into the North at the start of the Indian Ocean doesn't set us up particularly well for the next stage. The maxi catamaran sailed a superb course between the equator and South Africa, but we are still inside the time of the Jules Verne Trophy... It's reassuring. Of course we're disappointed by the weather, which is complicating things, but this intermediary time warms your heart a little...'said Franck Cammas at the radio session this Wednesday lunchtime.

Enormous seas in the Indian Ocean indeed, the difficulty lies in the next three days as Groupama 3 won't be able to adopt a normal course. Due to a large low, which is picking its away along under the bows of the giant trimaran, generating very big to enormous seas, with 12 metre waves, Franck Cammas and his nine crew having to adopt a more N'ly course as a result. Added to this, they will have to sail 700 miles further! However, to avoid these building seas, they're going to have to lay low for a while.

'We shouldn't have to reduce the sail area too much as we don't want the calm conditions to catch up with us, but if things become too bad, we'll bear way a little more... The wind won't be too strong over the coming days, at around 25 knots, but 500 miles to the South of us, there is 70 knots with a big swell, which may well cause us some bother from tomorrow morning. We should find a more manageable ocean from tomorrow evening, which will enable us to make easting again (rather than a course to the NE)... But that's the name of the game: Orange II also lost some time over certain periods.'

Slight bulkhead damageIn addition, the skipper of Groupama 3 indicated that a bulkhead had come unstuck a week ago: *'We are in a zone with five metre waves, which are well orientated but then, within the space of ten degrees, it can be a different ball game... Due to the impact, which causes waves of vibrations from forward to aft, everything is being shaken about down below, the men and the structure alike.

A bulkhead came away in this manner a week ago: we have laminated it but we need to intervene again... This messed up the organisation aboard a little since I'm doing the navigation and Yves Parlier is taking care of the work: it's not easy. We eased off the pace on the helm a bit too much, but that hasn't changed much as regards our course and our average speed. The worst point is going to be in 24 hours time once the seas are more abeam of us... We look forward to coming out the other side'

Stéphane Guilbaud, team manager of the trimaran, explains the situation: 'The part in question is a central bulkhead on the aft beam, referred to as the C-0 because it's right in the middle of the beam. For the time being, this slight damage isn't causing a problem and the crew is at the end of the repairs. The first part of the intervention consisted of laying a sheet of carbon on the area the day after the incident... The cause of the problem stems from the fact that it's not solid enough in light of the stresses it absorbs. The technical team had already encountered this problem on Groupama 2, without it preventing the trimaran from completing its races.' The sailing conditions aren't going to be very pleasant then over the next 48 hours...

The weather for the circumnavigation Sylvain Mondon, from Météo France: 'The week has gone by since the equator in an atmosphere of SE'ly tradewinds, backing to the East, then a stormy low came in from Brazil, pushing the Saint Helena High towards South Africa. This has enabled Groupama 3 to have a fairly similar trajectory to that of Orange II by taking a bit of a short cut in the Southern Atlantic. Unfortunately, the wind angle didn't enable the trimaran to make it in a single tack and instead several realignments were necessary under the Saint Helena High. However, Groupama 3 has nevertheless maintained some very high speeds: we are expecting a passage at the longitude of Cape Agulhas this Wednesday at 1637 UTC.

In relation to the logical and usual courses on a circumnavigation, the trimaran won't have the opportunity to drop between 45° and 50° South due to very big seas: 500 miles to its SE, there are waves of twelve metres! This unsettled zone is forcing the boat onto a fairly N'ly course to keep its distance from these waves, but it will still be sailing with 6-7 metre waves over the next 24 hours... In the middle of the Indian Ocean, to the North of the Kerguelen Islands, it will end up in downwind breezes after making headway with the S'ly wind on the beam. The extended course over the Indian Ocean can represent 700 to 800 miles between a course along 40° and one along 45° South, which equates to a good day's sailing!'

Today's interviewInterview with Franck Cammas, skipper and helmsman: 'We have made a series of fifteen gybes in this descent, which relates to three a day... For this manoeuvre, you need to be attentive and have a lot of people on deck. You have to move all the sails from one side to another. In addition you have to move the gennaker and the mainsail, which is 700 m² all told! That takes a good twenty minutes to adjust the foils, the mast, the sails... The gybe in itself doesn't make us lose too much time, it really down to the extended course, which made us go off at 90° to our intended heading... It's between Brazil and Africa that we lost most time. We can drop down the axis of the wind better than a maxi catamaran, but when we have big seas, the speeds are fairly similar.

This cushion of advance is a really positive thing though: it's not just the lead over the reference time that counts, but also the sailing conditions, which are fairly pleasant... The Deep South is amazing: the phenomena are very quick, the squalls, the clouds, the temperatures, everything changes fast. Between last night and this lunchtime, it's a completely different story: it was very cold and now it's mild. I'm discovering all this! Though we're not really in the South yet... We're lacking the intense cold and the big seas. The light is very captivating and the flight of the albatross is superb...'

References: Jules Verne Trophy*Time to beat: 50 days 16 hours 20 minutes and 4 seconds - Average speed: 17.89 knots
Record held by Bruno Peyron, aboard the maxi catamaran Orange II, since March 2005.

All about the circumnavigation*Passage into the Indian Ocean
*Passage at the longitude of Cape Agulhas by Groupama 3: Wednesday 6th February at 1637' UT
*From Ushant to Cape